Regicide Happens in Manchester; Monarchs Cease Operations

Photo via Manchester Monarchs Twitter

With the Manchester Monarchs folding up shop, it can looked at either one of two ways. One way is that it’s a failure of ownership to adjust to the changing landscape of entertainment and couldn’t maintain an audience. Another way is that a league change wasn’t received well and the only form of protest fans knew was to not show up.

For me, it’s combination of both because the ownership couldn’t handle was what going on and people in the community couldn’t find themselves to put money towards a team that didn’t seem to be getting better. Not only that, but dropping down to a lower-league, though there’s talent in that league, didn’t sit well with fans who were coming off their first and only Calder Cup in the AHL, only to see that team move west to Ontario.

There is some kind of bitterness I could understand with a team moving down a level of play. Some people were very happy with their AHL standing and the move to the ECHL was one that could be represented as a shot at the community not being good enough rather than a logistical thing for the LA Kings to bring their affiliate closer. What they may not have realized is that the team they were getting had been on a four-season streak of 40-plus wins. It was all about status.

Attendance dropped by 1,000 people in that first season and never rebounded. That said, the last few years in the AHL were middling at best given outside influence in life and money being tight everywhere. Regardless, the drastic drop could have been due to the league change, but the team charging the same price for the team they did in a higher level– I don’t have that access to the books.

Plus, it’s not like this team was horrible– they put together over 37 wins each season they were there, made the playoffs each of the four seasons, and had plenty of things going for them in terms of prospects just starting out so people could get in on the ground floor. But it wasn’t the AHL.

In comparison, the other teams who were moved out east found some kind of success in the move– Adirondack has grown by almost 1,000 people a game in those four seasons, though they hit a downturn when they moved to ECHL. Norfolk had plenty of rumors about their future with the declining attendance, but have gotten back to over 3,500 fans a game for a non-playoff team; but also dealt with a drastic hit from the move and ownership quarrels.

Yet, how were they able to survive and keep on going despite the move and other rumors and shake-ups?? Was it understanding the market better and adjusting?? Was it the fans actually really trying to give it an honest shot at a lower level?? How come Manchester didn’t do what was needed to survive??

To say that “ECHL hockey is not viable in Manchester” is a giant cop-out and a shot to the community of Manchester who actually supported the Monarchs through it all. On top of that, it seems that the ECHL gets painted badly due to the fact that a team that was so successful in attendance a league higher couldn’t make it a league below. Probably not many people thinking that if they’re following along, but from the far outside it could look bad overall for the league to be not looked as exciting enough for a former AHL championship city to be a viable area for ECHL hockey.

In the end, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. One place that maybe prospective Manchester hockey revivalist could look towards is Worcester. The AHL Sharks were a team that had its ups and down, but had a decent showing before they moved out west to become the Barracuda. After two seasons offs, the ECHL Railers came into town and have topped the 4,000-plus a night their first two seasons. That’s an ownership group who did their homework, looked at the area, and adjust accordingly to be successful off the ice, with the on-ice product learning the ropes of the ECHL and hovering the .500 mark.

Manchester can be a good hockey town. History has shown us that. It’s just a matter of the fans not feeling entitled to just having the AHL and the ownership group being smarter with the product they are trying to sell to the area.

Minor League Weekly: Puempel Powering Griffins, LaValle-Smotherman on Fire, SPHL MVP Contenders

AHL

image

Photo by Icon Sportswire

-It’s taken the Grand Rapids Griffins a while to get going, but with points in eight of their last ten games– they’ve regained their championship form. A lot of that success is due in part to the play of Matt Puempel, who’s in the midst of a nine-game point-streak (6g 7a), while having 40 points in 35 games with the Griffins and putting Puempel fourth in the AHL in scoring. This season is looking to be Puempel’s best in the AHL. With 43 points (19g, 24a) already this season, Puempel is only five points away from tying his AHL high, which he set in his rookie season of 2013-14 with the Binghamton Senators.

-When it comes to Thatcher Demko, it’s a matter of when he’ll get the full-time call-up to the Vancouver Canucks. His play this season has been stellar (17-7-5, 2.27 GAA, .929 Sv%) and will give the Canucks an interesting move late in their season– whether to call him up to get some NHL playing time, as he’ll luckily move into that role next season– or will they allow him to stay with Utica for the rest of the season and get a taste of a playoff run??

ECHL

AR-161239972.jpg

-Since the turning of the calendar, Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman has turned on his game big time with 11g, 12a in 14 games in 2018. The Monarchs forward has been on quite the roll with multi-point games in six of his last season, which has quietly put him in second spot for league leaders in points (52) and second in the league in goals (26). Not bad for a guy getting back into the North American game full-time after traveling around Europe from 2011 until towards the end of the 2016-17 season.

-There might be a chip in Joe Cannata’s shoulder because his play right now is really telling the Colorado Avalanche he wants to be promoted. The minor-league vet is 16-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .934 Sv%, which puts him 2nd and 1st respectively in the league. After years of being in the AHL– whether it being the veteran back-up or the stop-gap veteran– he’s in the ECHL full-time for the first time since 2014-15. With a championship team in front of him, he could be marking his way for when the Eagles move up to the AHL next season.

SPHL

Scott - POW

-While Jake Hauswirth has had a great season– it’s going to be hard-pressed for him to go ahead and win the MVP on a non-playoff team. For me, Berkley Scott could be the front-runner, especially with the month he just had in January (9g, 7a)–which earned him Player of the Month honors. Tomas Shall should also get some kind of recognition for the year he’s had with Evansville thus far with a 14-2-2 record, while ranking top-five in GAA and save percentage.

MINOR LEAGUE MONDAY: P-Bruins Rolling, Williams Pride of the Monarchs, DeLaVergne is All or Nothing

AHL

23472243_10155109644976903_4235903051364995498_n

-The streaky team of the week is the Providence Bruins, who have won their last seven games. After getting embarrassed 8-2 by Charlotte on November 25th, the P-Bruins haven’t lost and have won four of the seven game in extra time. While Kenny Agostino hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm that got him the MVP last year, Austin Czarnik has been picked up the scoring with 21 goals in 18 games. There’s a tough patch for the P-Bruins, who won’t play on home ice until January 5th as they go on an eight-game road swing.

-Despite being minus-six in the goal differential category, the Texas Stars have still managed to be one of the hotter teams in the Western Conference. With eight wins in their last ten, including their current three-game winning streak, the Stars are looking to add a little more punch to their game. However, they’ve taken a hit with Jason Dickinson getting called up to the NHL. While Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie hold down the fort, the Stars will need to get more consistent secondary help, as well as some key stops from their goaltending. Rookie Landon Bow has been solid with 10-4-0 record, but the hope is that he’ll improve on his 2.65 GAA as the season goes on and he continues to adjust.

ECHL

21765074_10155192587618878_9016152324257071290_n.jpg

-Charles Williams is a great story. The rookie goalie from Manchester has been a great addition to the every day line-up, leading the ECHL in GAA (1.98) and save percentage (.936) while being tied for second in wins (10) . This is after he had an amazing season at Canisius College (21-7-5, 1.82, .949) after transferring from Ferris State due to lack of playing time. With a chance to get playing time, Williams got into the top-10 in voting for the Hobey Baker Award and was Canisius College men’s player of the year. Williams went a perfect 3-0-0 when he joined the Monarchs at the end of last season.

-While he hasn’t gotten any weekly or monthly awards, Michael Joly out of Colorado should be getting plenty of recognition. Sure, he’s a Cy Young nominee (many more goals than assists)– but his 19 goals and six power play goals lead the league. With the help of Matt Register and Drayson Bowman, Joly and the Eagles are in prime position to defend their Kelly Cup title in the franchise’s last season in the ECHL.

SPHL

23905557_10155095974615754_8196787081369321724_n

-Mike DeLaVergne is an interesting subject. He leads the SPHL in GAA (1.98) and save percentage (.944), as well as being undefeated in regulation– but in his two losses he’s given up three and five goals a piece, but in his wins– it’s one or less. DeLaVergne is really an all-or-nothing goalie. It will help the Huntsville Havoc for DeLaVergne to push Keegan Asmundson and maybe get more time between the nets. For a team in the middle of the standing– it’ll probably come down to the goaltending to get them into a better spot in the playoffs.

Minor League (Not) Monday: Sommer at the Summit, ECHL North Heating Up, SPHLers Moving on Up

AHL

SJB-Sommer2-page-9300221e77.jpg

-A big congratulation to Roy Sommer of the San Jose Barracuda for getting his 700th AHL career win this past weekend. Sommer has been a soldier for the San Jose Sharks organization since he came in as an assistant coach in 1996-97. He has coached San Jose’s AHL affiliate since 1998 from Kentucky to Cleveland to Worcester and now San Jose. For a guy who has never coached in the NHL, he should be considered for the Hockey Hall of Fame when he’s done, not only for the wins record in the AHL, but for being 3rd all-time for most games coached in the professional ranks, currently at 1,833– behind only Barry Trotz and Scotty Bowman.

-The hottest team in the Eastern Conference is the Syracuse Crunch. With a six-game winning streak, the Crunch have been able to get back into the North Division playoff picture. Though Cory Conacher is up with the Lightning, Michael Bournival and Matthew Peca have been able to pick up the slack. A balanced attack on offense has been able to help, as well, with 13 players potting at least three goals on the season.

ECHL

1718NorthDivision-672x372

-The North Division could be one of the races to look at as the season goes along. All the teams are sitting at .500 or better to start the season, with only five points separating the fifth spot from the top spot. While the Manchester Monarchs are trying to get some distance with their four-game winning streak, Wheeling is right behind them with three of the top-ten in scoring on their roster (Cody Wydo, Reid Gardner, and Garrett Meurs). Reading, Adirondack, and Brampton are still contenders and who knows what Worcester could be doing as they keep going along.

-Though they are following Toledo in the standings, Cincinnati has a strong scoring presence, with both Shawn O’Donnell (10pts in seven games) and Justin Danforth (9pts in six games) with two of the longest point-scoring streaks in the league. With Eric Knodel helping out on the power play and Anthony Peters holding down the fort in net– the Cyclones are in a prime spot to battle Toledo for top-spot in the Central.

SPHL

DP0CFV_WkAApJdZ.jpg

-One of the biggest stories is how the downfall of the affiliation in Norfolk of the ECHL plucked a lot of players from the SPHL. Max Cook (Fayetteville), Nick Miglio (Peoria), and John Rey (Birmingham). As the season goes on, depending on the fate of the Admirals, more names could be going that way. While it’s good for those players and the league to be a developmental asset, the teams may feel the crunch, especially if it’s late in the season and they lose a top guy when they need them the most.